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Major Scholarly Find in Rachmaninoff Studies

Fans of the symphonies and piano concertos of Sergei Rachmaninoff swoon over the many performances this music receives each season, admiring the melodic sweep, treacly harmony, and heavenly length of the Russian composer's style. A new musicological discovery may force listeners to reconsider what they think they know about their beloved idol. Dr. Ignaz Allott, professor of music at the University of South Central Florida, does not regularly concern himself with music later than the Renaissance, but the early music specialist claims he can explain an odd passage in one of the Russian composer's letters. "Writing to his friend, Mikhail Overdunsky, Rachmaninoff expressed worry that the second symphony would not be accepted by audiences," Prof. Allott explains. "He entrusted Overdunsky with informing the musicians of his intentions in the piece, indicated only by the mysterious letters 'OMA' at the beginning of his manuscript copy of the symphony."

This rare annotation, thought to be an extraneous error by the typesetter, did not make it into any of the published versions of the symphony. "It is actually a common trick used in puzzle canons in late medieval Italian manuscripts," Allott says. "It stands for Omittere misure alternative, and when you saw it, you knew that you 'solved' the puzzle by performing only every other measure of the notated music." More startling, Rachmaninoff apparently intended this instruction to be included at the top of all of his symphonies, concertos, and piano music, meaning that all of those scores should be performed with only half of the music Rachmaninoff has written down. "Instead of taking 54 minutes to perform, the second symphony should only last 27 minutes," Allott explains, laughing, "and that interminable second piano concerto should instead be a more tolerable 17 minutes long."

Considering the bloated experience created by performing these pieces without understanding Rachmaninoff's true intentions, Allott says he is surprised that no one realized the mistake earlier. "All those years of sitting through endless repetitions in Rachmaninoff's music, I am amazed that anyone could stand it," he adds with a smile. Asked about his plans for future research, Allott says he is looking into how his findings may be applicable to the symphonies of Tchaikovsky.

With apologies to all the Rachmaninoff fans out there, as most of you realized -- poissons d'avril!


Anonymous said...

Well, I was about to publish a similar thing about Mahler. :-(

Anonymous said...

It would be so great if we could completely eliminate Rach from concert programs and substitute works from the Second Viennese school.

Mark said...

What ? I'm not a musicologist but Rach himself recorded his concertos with Ormandy. The second piano concerto with Ormandy comes in at around 32 min, not 17. Seems to be he would have played his music like he intended it to be played.

Charles T. Downey said...

Readers are advised to check the dateline of this post. ;-)